I Wanna Be Stretch Armstrong!

The heart of intimacy consists of doing two things at once, which on their face seem mutually exclusive: 1) stand your ground; 2) be profoundly open to the other
— My friend Jake quoting his therapist quoting Martin Buber, "I and Thou"

Recently I attended my friend Jake’s grandfather’s housewarming. Why I was there, I have no clue. Wait, yes, I do. Free food. About half an hour prior to this geriatric spectacular, Jake casually informed me that his grandpa, Dick, said that I’m throwing my life away by pursuing comedy. Now, this is not exactly what you want to hear before warming an old man’s house. My initial reaction was to say, Eff Dick in the A, he couldn’t feed me enough caviar crostinis to make me attend this party. But then I realized that I was only reacting in a hostile manner because I was getting swept up into Dick’s worldview. If I truly believed that what I’m doing with my life is worthwhile, Dick’s opinion would be a nonstarter. Who cares if old man Dick thinks I’m throwing my life away? Who is old man Dick anyway?

My yoga teachers often emphasize that strength and flexibility are two often opposing qualities that are best developed simultaneously (Yes, I get most of my wisdom from my yoga instructors – cram it!). If you only focus on building muscle, it’ll be especially hard for your body to become flexible, and vice versa. It requires awareness and practice to develop a body that is both strong and flexible, which allegedly can be achieved through yoga. 

I believe that this concept can be extended to the psyche. The more independent and mentally strong we are, the more steadfastly we hold our beliefs and values. If we cling too tightly to our “truths,” we prevent ourselves from learning from other people’s disparate belief systems. On the contrary, if we remain too open-minded, we can get swept up into other people’s perceived realities and lose our sense of self. As with yoga, it requires a mindful effort to acknowledge where we lie on the strength-flexibility spectrum and determine when it’s best to adopt another’s perspective. 

After being tossed around and walked upon throughout my life, I know that I tend towards the flexible side of the spectrum. I’m the type that could wake up one day only to realize that I have spent the last five years in a new age cult where we spend our money on UFO books and Spirulina. 

Knowing that I tend towards flexibility has emboldened me to sometimes hold onto my truths in the face of old Dicks espousing their shitty belief systems. I’m less of a people pleaser and more satisfied with myself. That said, it is extremely challenging to determine when I’m being appropriately generous or bending too much for someone else. I’m also regularly tempted to just avoid situations in which I would be surrounded by strong personalities. It is a constant effort to stand with others and choose not to edit myself. However, when I flex these muscles, I’m rewarded with a stronger sense of self and a new fondness for caviar crostinis.

Cameron Poter